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Something Stinks: Terre Haute’s Ongoing Struggle With Corruption

In the church we have a saying, “there can be no reconciliation, where there is no repentance.” You can forgive someone and move on with your life without them ever repenting, but you should never attempt a reconciliation with someone who refuses to acknowledge the harm they’ve caused. If local politicians want to move forward with the community, then the community will need to see some confession and repentance. Terre Haute has been too corrupt for too long to just start over. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

Let’s start with what’s really been happening at the Waste Water Treatment facility? If you’re not familiar with this story, according to Indiana Public Media, Mayor Duke Bennett, former Waste Water Treatment Director Mark Thompson, and Plocher Construction President Scott Plocher were implicated in a lawsuit filed by the Overseas Lease Group in 2017 for soliciting cash payments in exchange for city contracts related to the failed sludge-to-diesel scheme pursued by Mayor Bennett. 

Shortly after this lawsuit was filed the FBI raided the Waste Water Treatment facility and subpoenaed the city for any communications with several businesses and municipalities. At least one of these businesses was listed as a campaign finance contributor on Mayor Bennett’s report of campaign receipts and expenditures, HWC Engineering President Terry Baker. In response to the investigation the Mayor stated that the city would be conducting its own internal investigation and might have results sooner than the FBI. To my knowledge the results of the FBI and the city’s investigations have never been published.

Despite no official communication from the bureau and a broad scope of requested documents, Mayor Bennett was quoted in the Terre Haute Tribune Star stating that he believed the investigation targeted only one individual. Tragically, in the days following the FBI’s raid Mark Thompson Director of the Waste Water Treatment facility took his own life. It is unlikely, however, that an investigation of this scale would involve only one person. What makes this story even more unsettling is that just one year earlier the FBI also raided the Vigo County School Corporation and the results of that investigation were promptly published.

If it wasn’t for all of the other controversies swirling around the Waste Water Treatment facility you might not think twice about the largest individual contributor to Mayor Bennett’s 2019 and 2015 candidacy being Willis Connor, President of American Structurepoint Inc. The engineering firm primarily responsible for the inspection and oversight of a $120 million dollar upgrade of the Waste Water Treatment facility. You probably wouldn’t think twice about it because the majority of the individual donors to Mayor Bennett’s campaign are executives in Indianapolis based engineering and law firms directly involved in major city projects.

If all of this information isn’t disturbing enough what bothers me even more is that this story is two years old. I filed an FOIA request with the FBI for documents relating to their investigation and was told that none were found. I emailed Max Jones the editor of the Tribune Star and the entire news staff and received no reply. I emailed Eddie Felling the City Attorney and his staff, and received no reply. The city of Terre Haute deserves to know what happened. This article is the first in a series of posts about Terre Haute’s ongoing struggle with corruption. In the future I hope to cover our multiple Hatch Act infractions, campaign finance violations, TIF district manipulation, and wide spread bribery with local construction companies.

Update: This article received a sizeable amount of traffic and a fair amount of push back. Most of the criticisms revolved around the fact that there is no absolutely clear proof of corruption. While that is true it is notoriously difficult to prove local cases of corruption like this because they often happen through a few people using word of mouth agreements. The FBI’s lack of response does not indicate that there was no evidence of wrong doing. Multiple sources close to the investigation have informed me that the Bureau had evidence of a crime but chose not to purse charges after Mark Thompson’s death. Also, whether or not the mayor is directly involved in the corruption is not the only concern. If the mayor is unaware of the widespread corruption then he could be considered negligent, and if he is aware then complicit.

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